No estimate of fees at outset results in 15% being knocked off

Ieremia’s Case [2006] VCAT 1419

A solicitor signed his client up to a no-win no-fee costs agreement on County Court Scale C in relation to a weekly payments dispute with Workcover. The weekly payments were reinstated as a result of the solicitor’s work, though Workcover did not permit him to attend the conciliation at which that result was achieved. He did provide written submissions in advance of the conciliation, however. Because he failed to provide any estimate of fees at all, Mr Howell knocked 15% of his bill for about $1,400 for disbursements includes $1800 for professional fees and ordered the client to pay the discounted amount. The argument that there was no sensible estimate which could have been given was treated with short shrift:

“I do not accept his evidence. It is now nearly ten years since legal practitioners have been obliged to comply with these statutory provisions. Mr. Nankin gave evidence that he has been a practitioner for 28 years, and I do not doubt that he could have provided, at the very least, a range of estimates and an explanation of the variables.”

The Client’s arguments that the solicitor breached an obligation to advise her at the outset that (i) he might not be able to represent her at the conciliation and (ii) that she might be able to get free assistance from Workcover or from her union failed, in part in the case of the second argument because no evidence was adduced by the client that any such free assistance was in fact available.

In fact, the applicant excited Mr Howell into this conclusion:

“Mrs. Ieremia is not sincere in her contention that she should not have to pay the account because [the solicitor’s employee] did not inform her at the outset that he might not be able to represent her at the conciliation conference. It is an argument of convenience, adopted with the advantage of hindsight in an attempt to avoid payment of costs to [the solicitor] for the work performed by [the solicitor’s employee].”

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